By Prarthana Mitra
Although there won’t be a Nobel Prize in Literature awarded for the first time in 70 years, some Swedish cultural figures have decided to bestow their own literary prize this year. With the last nominations for this alt-award filed on Sunday, four of the best authors will now have their works reviewed by a jury consisting of some of Sweden’s most prominent journalists, literary critics, authors, and librarians.
Here’s what happened
Earlier this year, the Swedish Academy announced that it would not be awarding a Nobel Prize in 2018 and will instead award two prizes in 2019. The move came after Swedish media in November published the testimonies of 18 women claiming to have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed by an influential French cultural figure who has long been connected to the institution and now faces a series of trials. The postponement was a means to mend and withdraw from a position that would subject the Academy to further scrutiny.
After the cancellation, a Swedish non-profit decided to pick up the reins to form an alternative Nobel Prize in Literature in protest. According to comedian and actor Bianca Kronlöf, the alt-Nobel is “a positive counterforce to everything sad” happening to Sweden’s artistic circles that came to light in the wake of #MeToo.
All you need to know about The New Academy
The recently founded non-profit constituting Swedish intelligentsia, called The New Academy (Den nya akademien), announced a new accolade for literature to compensate for the gap.
It will be giving out the awards based on nominations sent in by Swedish librarians on December 10, the day of the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm. The names of the winners will be announced along with the rest of the Nobel awardees in October and the committee will be dissolved on December 11.
On December 10, a recently-founded Swedish non-profit organization called The New Academy will award an alternative Nobel Prize in Literature.
— Book Riot (@BookRiot) July 6, 2018
Open, inclusive and with a moral axis
The idea for The New Academy came from Swedish writer Alexandra Pascalidou following the Swedish Academy’s announcement. The non-profit has since garnered a membership of over 100 Swedish poets, writers, and artists.
The alternative honour serves to denounce “bias, arrogance and sexism,” according to the founders and it is a means to “remind people that literature and culture at large should promote democracy, transparency, empathy and respect, without privilege,” the 107 intellectuals wrote in a joint statement.
— Vicki Ziegler (@bookgaga) July 3, 2018
Some observers are, however, sceptical about whether the New Academy can compare with the Nobel Literature Prize’s history of recognizing distinguished authors.
Asa Linderborg, the chief culture editor at daily paper Aftonbladet, seemed to think that using literature to promote moral values was quite provocative as “the most disturbing ideas” can also technically be regarded as high-quality literature. She told AFP, “Art should be free. You cannot label it based on righteousness or evil. The New Academy is after total purity… total goodness.”
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.